Any car designed to operate on the road requires a lot of engineering effort to make it street legal and comfortable enough to drive without a helmet. You may not understand how much those efforts inherently compromise a car for the track until you’ve driven a machine designed for track greatness from the very beginning. Behold, the U.S. Ginetta G55 GTA.
(Full Disclosure: Anthony Magagnoli is a vehicle development engineer with 14 years of OEM experience, a professional race car driver, driving coach and future karaoke champion. Ginetta provided him with a nice hotel room and a delicious dinner at NJMP’s Finish Line Pub to get an early crack at the G55 GTA. All other travel expenses were covered by Jalopnik.)
So, you think you’ve made your car into a pretty serious track day car? You just bought a high-end track weapon to dominate your favorite HPDE (High Performance Driver Education) school? You probably don’t realize just how compromised it really is.
A good sports car will survive on the track. A great car will do reasonably well there, with the level of performance on track being inversely proportional to its road manners. With enough money, the addition of active suspensions, active isolators, active aero, and more can reduce the compromises of a road car headed for the track — but they all add weight. And adding more money in carbon fiber bits can only help so much. Turning a road car into a dedicated track car is largely an exercise in undoing and re-engineering what was originally designed while physically removing as much excess mass as possible, but a car’s origins can never be fully hidden.
What Is The Ginetta G55?
The alternative to that is something like the Ginetta G55. A purpose-built race car, which doesn’t come with any of the inherent compromises mentioned above. The chassis is a rigid tube frame with an integrated FIA roll cage. The suspension geometry is optimized for track use with no consideration for passenger comfort. Its single purpose is to maximize tire contact patch to the road. There are no bushings to allow excess tired deflection or dilute the communication of what the tires are doing. There are no electronic aids to interfere with a pure driving experience, or to save your ass when you screw up.
This specific car, the G55 GTA (which stands for “GT Academy”) is built for an entry level rung on UK manufacturer Ginetta’s expansive race car ladder. It is a trainer, track toy and racecar intended to introduce a driver into the Ginetta family and provide a tool that maximizes driver skill development. The GT Academy has been a popular in the UK and Ginetta has intentions of launching similar programs in the U.S., likely in 2021. Formula 1 star Lando Norris is a graduate of Ginetta’s driver development ladder and you could be, too!
Ginetta offers two racier models in the G55 lineup, the SuperCup, and above that, the internationally homologated GT4-spec car, which is already being raced stateside in SRO GT4. Beyond that are the prototypes.
The G55 is front-mid engine and rear-wheel drive with two seats in the sealed cockpit. The sleek body is made of fiberglass for low weight, low cost and ease of repair. The underbody of the car is flat, with a functional diffuser in the rear that works in conjunction with the adjustable wing.
The Academy car runs on wheels and tires that look like they would be much more at home on a street car than a racecar. The wheels measure 20-inches in diameter and roll on 245/35R20 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires — so it’s running on relatively skinny street tires, which was my biggest concern leading up to my time with the car. But, we’ll come back to that.
If you’re expecting some exotic engine choice to drool over here, you might be disappointed to learn that the G55 is powered by the same 3.7L Ford V6 that used to pull duty in rental-grade Mustangs. While the modest output of 270 horsepower and 298 lb-ft of torque might not seem too exciting, remember that the car weighs a measly 2,400 lbs! That’s 8.9 lb/HP.
With a modest redline of 6,500 rpm, it’s not a screamer either. The Duratec V6 is a dual overhead cam engine with variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust, providing robust torque that ensures you will always have good power to play with, even if you’re a couple thousand rpm off redline. Since it’s naturally aspirated, the power is always immediately available with incredibly linear throttle response and power delivery. It’s easy to manage, allowing the driver to focus on carrying speed through a corner. The engine is certainly not the star of the show, but it’s a functionally excellent powerplant for the car and driver it serves.
While the Duratec V6 is modified for more output in other versions of the G55, the internals are completely stock in the GTA. The one exception is that it has been fitted with a dry-sump oiling system to ensure that everything remains properly lubricated, even during high-g cornering and braking. This adds up to one major benefit: Reliability. When you invest thousands of dollars in a weekend of driving or racing, any issues become more costly than just the repairs themselves. Having something like stock reliability is a very good thing in this case.
The dry sump system allows the engine to be mounted very low in the chassis and, due to the short length of the V6, it’s also mounted far back in true front-mid fashion. The front of the engine sits roughly a foot behind the front axle centerline. This was very noticeable in how well the GTA turned in, thanks to the low polar moment. Essentially, the closer the mass is to the center of the car, the more quickly and easily it will respond to lateral forces generated at the tires and rotate. Similarly, the low center of gravity results in little roll and quick weight transfer.
The power is routed through a paddle-shifted Quaife UK 6-speed sequential gearbox with racing clutch, so the clutch is only used to get the car moving off the line. There was barely enough room between the brake pedal and dead pedal for me to get my foot on the clutch pedal in my narrow racing boots. My street shoes were too wide to fit!
The clutch is grabby, much like other high torque racing clutches, but the shifts are solid and precise at speed. The gearbox isn’t seamless like a dual-clutch OEM transmission, as it only needs to work essentially at full throttle on upshifts or zero throttle on downshifts. It did so very well, though it was occasionally apparent that these gearboxes were nearing their 100-running-hour service life. Considering that this particular car had over 75 hours of hard racing on it from overseas already, a bit of excess lash in the system was perfectly excusable. It’s built for this.
Inside The Ginetta G55
What you don’t get with something like this is the level of fit and finish that you might expect from a road car. There’s a good reason — that stuff doesn’t make a car any faster, but does make it more expensive to build and repair. On the G55, the door fit fluctuates based on the direction of the wind, the gasket between the window and the door frame is hand-notched to clear the fixed-window’s rivets, and the wrap on the dash was made from some fuzzy material that looked like it came out of Graceland. Here was an appropriate opportunity to use that Alcantara if I’d ever seen one.
On a positive note, the interior was nicely trimmed with composite moldings on the doors and center console. The roll cage had carbon fiber trim integrated over the side bars. The seating position was superb, with plenty of available adjustment. The seats were on sliders and the steering column both tilted and telescoped, so it was pretty fancy for a race car. While there was room to move even closer than my racecar-friendly 5’8” frame required, Ginetta said they’ve also fit a 6’3” helmeted driver. Most people should fit comfortably.
The MoTeC dash moved with the column, but the shift lights became partially obscured by the top of the steering wheel if I moved the column down as far as I wanted to. (Easy enough to rectify, as an auxiliary shift light module could be added and placed in better line of sight.) That small-diameter, flat-bottomed Momo wheel housed the controls for the dash while a 15-button keypad controlled the MoTeC Power Distribution Module for ancillary features.
Since the G55 has a sealed cockpit (the windows are fixed in place), there is air conditioning on board to keep the temperature bearable. It was adequate enough on a 72-degree-Fahrenheit day to keep me from noticing the warmth, but I was still sweating as much as I would be in another car with open windows and no A/C. Manage your expectations here, but also consider that I was getting a moderate workout while wearing a full fire suit. If the weather turns wet, the G55 has a heated windscreen with element wires so thin that I had to look for them to realize they were there. While likely a more critical necessity in England, you will still appreciate just how critical a windscreen defroster is the first time things fog up in the wet.
The Ginetta G55 GTA On The Track (And On Video)
From the moment that you strap yourself in and start the engine, you get the sense that you’re in for a different experience than those track-day conversions we mentioned before. The seating position in a racecar is more critical than you can imagine. It’s well executed here, as if the car was draped right over your body. There is nothing to distract you from the task at hand and you recognize right away that you’re operating a well-crafted and complex tool.
As I set out on my initial laps of New Jersey Motorsports Park’s Thunderbolt course, I started learning my shift points, gear selections, braking points, etc. The gear spacing in the Quaife sequential is tight, fully requiring the use of gears 3 through 6 on this track where my minimum speed on a quick lap was 50 mph and I maxed at 132 mph on the front straight. While it was perfectly geared for a mid-speed course like NJMP (and likely most tracks in the UK), it might top out at a longer and faster track. The rev limiter is set at 6,800 rpm and I was told that would equate to 140 mph. I was also told the G55 did not hit the limiter on VIR’s long back straight during testing.
Prior to my time in the GTA, I had voiced my skepticism to the good folks at Ginetta regarding testing the car on street tires. I couldn’t imagine why you’d forgo mounting dedicated track tires on a car like this unless it was to be raced in a class that required DOT legal tires. I imagined that the rest of the chassis might be let down by the relative lack of grip. Then they explained that the forthcoming U.S. Ginetta GT Academy series would be run with Michelin PS4S street tire and they intended to demonstrate the car as it would be raced.
I forgot about all that when I first got on the track. The grip was not at all a letdown. After a few laps, I was turning times on par with similarly-powered BMW E36 racecars that I’d run here on Hoosiers in the past. The low weight, low center of gravity, low polar moment and track-optimized suspension geometry made the most out of the modest 245 mm Michelins.
The road tires offered a broad peak on the grip-versus-slip curve, making them more progressive in breakaway and recovery than a race tire, thus making the limits more approachable and the car more controllable. The load on the tires was so relatively low that they didn’t even squeal at or beyond their limit. If you’d have told me that I was on a Toyo RR – possibly the friendliest race-compound tire to drive on – I would’ve believed you.
In terms of handling, the utter lack of any bushings made the reactions immediate and telepathic. Weight transfers went directly to loading the tires with no waiting for the tire to “grip up”. The dampers did offer a single adjustment (presumably high speed rebound), but it didn’t leave me wanting for any other big changes. Throttle tip-in was spiking the load on the rear tires and breaking traction in low speed corners, so I might have relieved some front damping to load the rear tires more quickly, but this may have just been a band-aid. I think the issue was lash in the very well-used driveline. As mentioned, the gearbox was almost ready for a rebuild.
The aero package on the car was functional and strongly biased toward creating downforce at the rear. As the tires warmed up, the car was a little loose in low-speed corners. In mid-speed corners it would balance out, while high-speed corners brought on a strong front end push as the rear wing and diffuser provided more effect. More front splitter would be a big help here. It’s available from the G55 SuperCup car, but is not part of the GTA spec.
The brakes were strong despite lacking any booster or ABS — it took me some time to acclimate to how much brake force it could really take, as I didn’t particularly want to lock a tire at 130 mph. I ended up dialing the brake bias forward a few clicks over the first two sessions to counteract the car’s tendency to oversteer in the trailbraking phase on corner entry as the rear unloaded. While this might have cost me some ultimate braking potential at high speed, it allowed me to carry more corner entry speed with better stability.
The boost of the hydraulic power steering is modest enough that I originally thought it might be unassisted. The wheel has a decent bit of weight to it when the car is loaded up in a corner, even on street tires. I’d presume that the small diameter wheel has a fair bit to do with the higher efforts and thus the need for some power assist.
The presence of power steering allows the steering ratio to be relatively quick, which works well with the reflexes of the car. The rate feels natural when turning in, but more critically, when correcting for oversteer. The quick ratio ensures that your arms will never cross over and you never have to remove your hands from 9 and 3. The only thing to remember is that there isn’t much steering lock available. Maneuvering around the paddock takes planning and wide arcs. On the track, you can only catch so big of a slide because you’ll run out of opposite lock. That might not be a bad thing, though, as a spin is often a lot safer than overcorrecting and shooting off the track at speed.
The car was remarkably consistent throughout the whole day. The tires did seem to be fastest in the first three laps before dropping off just a few measly tenths of a second, but they always came right back with a cool-down. Impressive, considering they were running at essentially a racing pace. At the end of the day, the tires looked pretty much the same as they had when the day started.
The GTA was both a pleasure and a challenge to drive. It demands your full attention at all times and rewards that by responding to your inputs with absolute precision. With no ABS or traction control, it also kept you looking for another tenth of a second, seeking to constantly improve yourself.
This section isn’t going to involve the normal review of road manners and creature comforts, as the Ginetta G55 is not remotely street legal. But you still have to live with it away from the track. The simple purpose-minded construction of the G55 focuses on ease of maintenance and cost management.
The cost of running a racecar is often calculated in dollar-per-hour of run time. After the initial acquisition cost of $99,950 (before options), the low weight and low material cost will ensure a hell of a competitive $/hr ratio to anything else of similar performance.
The engine, which is usually a high-cost specialty item on race cars, should literally run for the life of the car without need for rebuild. Should any track incidents require body or structural repairs, Ginetta North America will have parts in stock in the U.S.. TMI AutoTech is serving as Ginetta’s U.S. arm, providing all necessary support out of their South Boston, VA headquarters. This is the same company that builds the Ariel cars for North America.
The G55 GTA is a momentum car, which is part of what makes it a good trainer. You will feel the penalty when you’ve over-slowed, just as you will if you over-cook a corner. The power is well-balanced with the grip level so you must manage both effectively.
The engine does have good torque, so don’t be lured into grabbing a lower gear than necessary, which inevitably leads to over-slowing. Focus on carrying speed into and through the turn, making sure you have enough revs in reserve to get out of the corner before necessitating an upshift.
The downshifts apply a significant negative torque to the rear wheels, so make sure you get them done while straight-line braking if possible. If done on corner-entry, it may result in snap oversteer—imagine pulling the e-brake in a turn. The adjustable brake bias can be used to balance straight-line braking potential with balance on corner entry. It can also be used to better optimize the balance in the wet or with other setup changes.
The rear end needs to be managed throughout the low speed corners, so only drive to what the rear tires can manage until speeds come up to where the rear aero comes into play. For the high-speed corners, carry some weight on the nose to help draw the car into the turn, making sure to get pointed down to the apex before committing back to throttle. As the speeds go up, the apexes will need to be moved later to deal with the additional understeer bias.
As far as race cars go, I normally enjoy watching sports car races because I can better relate them to their street-going counterparts. There’s now a part of me that wishes Ginetta had a road car G55 I could buy. I can’t wait to see these in racing action. In the meantime, it’d be fun to take one of these to a track day and beat up on some modified “supercars.”